Untapped potential: How the Trans Africa Pipeline project plans to solve the Sahel drought issue
“A village will have clean fresh water drilled into the aquafir well, then the aquafirs deplete and the wells break down,” Daphne Lavers tells us. Lavers and her husband, Dr Rod Tennyson are frustrated that NGO-built African wells do not last. According to UPGro (a research programme studying groundwater projects in sub-Saharan Africa) nearly one third of such projects fail within a few years of construction. One major reason for this is failure to train locals. Daphne explains: “NGOs haven’t trained anyone local to keep them going. It’s an irrational piecemeal way to deal with water shortages and it’s not necessary.”
It’s not necessary. In other words, Lavers and Tennyson think that water shortages in Africa are not predetermined, inevitable or engraved by natural law. At the same time, the United Nations predicts that by 2050 over 50 percent of agricultural land in the Sahel region could be infertile by 2050.
Lavers and Tennyson (both Canadian) feel this is a sort of fatalism on the part of UN and NGOs. In response, they conceived TAP, the Trans Africa Pipeline project. In 2005, Lavers and Tennyson designed a fresh-water pipeline that will cross the Sahel region of Africa, starting in the west (Mauritania) and ending in the east (Sudan). Though it hasn’t been constructed yet, TAP has secured private financing, agreements with contractors and an agreement with the Mauritanian government.
The proposed pipeline will be 8,000 km long, 1.2-1.5 diameters wide, cross 11 African countries and cost $14.7 billion.
What qualifies Tennyson and Lavers to lead such an ambitious project? A seasoned aerospace engineer and University of Toronto Professor of Emeritus, he co-founded FOX-TEK, which specialises in fibre optic sensor technology. “It became apparent that fibre optic sensors could be used on pipelines,” Tennyson says. Armed with a Masters of Journalism from Carlton University, Lavers handles communications for TAP. Like Tennyson, she also has experience in the pipeline sector, which she calls “a hot button subject for Canada”.
“When Daphne and I were listening to the G8 Summit in Gleneagles, Scotland , they were talking about the water shortage in Africa,” Tennyson adds. “Daphne asked that since I was involved in pipelines, why couldn’t I pipe water across Africa? That’s how it started.” Now, TAP has left the starting line, with various backers cheering its progress. When complete, TAP aims to provide enough fresh drinking water for 28-30 million people across the Sahel region, along with water for them to grow crops. TAP plans to pump 800,000 cubic metres per day, and in two directions. There are two reasons for transporting water both east and west: “If for any reason there is a failure in the pipeline we can still pump in both directions up until the end of that pipeline,” Tennyson explains. “Also, it’s for the security of supply. For example, if one desalination plant goes down or fails, we still have water coming from another desalination plant.” Mauritania, Senegal, Sudan and Djibouti will each house a desalination plant, so there will be two on each coast.
This is a condensed version of the TAP article. To read the full piece, view the June issue of the African Business Review.
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”